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A substantive difference

It's not just the uniform that has changed at IBM, though that has changed markedly. In the last few years IBM has gone from all-suit and tie, to casual Fridays, to casual sites, and now to all business casual. For some old time IBMers this change meant they had to purchase a whole new wardrobe - since all they had were suits and jeans, nothing in between. While this was more conformable for most of the occupants it meant little else. Like repainting the same old boat.

The change in clothing was not representative of a change in much of the corporate culture nor did it represent an evolution in IBM's understanding of the rapidly changing technology world. All too many people within IBM still kept their mental suits on.

The best example of the view that corporate IBM held is that they felt that IBM should "own" the data network in a corporation. Specifically, since all of the network hardware and software should be IBM provided it was all right to use proprietary technology. Standards were defined by what IBM said they should be, not by standards organizations.

I will hasten to add that this was not a universal view within IBM. Quite a few groups, for example, the groups advocating the use of TCP/IP , felt differently. (note: I do not mean to say that just because someone supports TCP/IP they are automatically on the good side, it is the support for the use of open standards that makes the difference.) But the old-line SNA networking crowd had a narrow definition of corporate data networking.

IBM is now a different company. IBM now understands that it is part of the world, not a world unto itself. IBM's network management tools will work in a multi vendor network. Its computers will operate over networks with no IBM components. IBM's service organization operates many corporate networks, some with little, if any, IBM equipment in them.

A good example of the new IBM is Beyond Computing one of their glossy publications. I do not quite know how I got on the mailing list for this small magazine but I am quite impressed with the quality of the articles and in particular the lack of it being a shill for IBM. (Most of the magazine is available on-line at For example, an alphabetized list of relevant vendors is included at the end of may articles, complete with URLs or phone numbers. IBM might be one of 2 dozen companies listed.

This column is not meant to be the shill that Beyond Computing is not, but instead to present IBM as an example of a company that attempted to travel a path of "better" technology rather than standard technology and which went through some very rough times before it changed directions. There are some quite large companies on the technology scene these days that seem to be traveling the path that IBM tried. They may be in for some interesting times down the road.

disclaimer: There are few standards organizations in the higher education business that can effect Harvard, so the above must be my own observations.